It’s taken some time, but UCLA freshman Kris Wilkes has finally found his groove on the court

UCLA guard Kris Wilkes goes to the basket while defended by Washington forward Noah Dickerson during the second half on Sunday,
(Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

He’s coming up with big plays, making his free throws and showing a variety of moves.

Kris Wilkes has only one gripe about the best three-game stretch of his freshman season.

“I think I should have been doing this all along,” the UCLA forward said Sunday after sparking the Bruins’ 74-53 comeback victory over Washington with a career-high 21 points.

Wilkes made the steal and layup that gave UCLA the lead with 5 ½ minutes left after the Bruins had trailed by 14 points early in the second half. He also pump-faked a defender out of the way before rising for a jumper, showing that he can do more than make three-pointers and cut to the basket for layups.

“He’s scoring in a variety of ways now instead of just spot transition threes that we saw early in the season,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said Tuesday. “Now, he’s getting to the free-throw line, he’s making free throws, he’s getting put-backs, he’s running in transition to the rim, he’s driving the ball well. And that’s what good scorers have got to learn to do: You’ve got to be able to score in a variety of ways, not just be one-dimensional.”


Wilkes has averaged 18.3 points over the last three games after having scored in single digits in three of the four previous games. He’s also made 78.9% of his free throws over the last three games after having made only 53.3% of his free throws in the preceding games.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that UCLA (11-3 overall, 2-0 in Pac-12 Conference play) won all three games, including victories over then-No. 7 Kentucky and a Washington team that has already exceeded its victory total from last season. Wilkes’ breakthrough has alleviated the need for teammates Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh to play almost perfectly for the Bruins to win.

“I’m glad I have the teammates to help me do this,” Wilkes said, “and I’m glad that we’re doing this now and winning.”

Feeling freer

If there’s one sure way to make Alford mad, it’s by missing free throws.

Alford made 89.8% of his free throws while starring for Indiana and does not tolerate repeated misses.

“He says it all the time, he doesn’t like missed free throws,” UCLA guard Prince Ali said. “It’s like you’re giving away free points; it’s free.”

Misses can be costly, as the Bruins learned last month when GG Goloman made only one of two free throws in the final seconds of regulation during an overtime loss to Michigan.

Lately, most of the free throws have been going in. UCLA has made 78.6% of its free throws over the last four games after making 67.1% through its first 10 games. Ali said putting in extra work and having to run sprints after two consecutive misses have helped trigger the turnaround.

The Bruins started Pac-12 play ranked last in the conference in free-throw percentage but now rank ninth, making 70.5%.

“If we can get our team foul shooting to 75%,” Alford said, “then we’ve got a legit weapon because I think we are good at drawing fouls and we put teams in some situations where they have to foul us.”

Quick hits

UCLA’s RPI, which had been 108 early last month, has risen to 42, one spot behind USC’s. … Washington’s 7.4% accuracy from three-point range against the Bruins was the lowest for any UCLA opponent since Stanford missed all 13 three-pointers against UCLA on Jan. 5, 2013.

Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch